‘Driven by War into Politics!’ Kathleen Elizabeth Royds (Innes) (1883-1967) , written by Maki Kimura

Kathleen Elizabeth Royds, better known by her married name Kathleen Elizabeth Innes, was one of the British delegates to the 1919 Congress in Zurich. In contrast to other British delegates who were members of the Women’s International League (WIL), the British Section of the Women International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), she had been employed as the office secretary of the WIL in spring 1919.  Shortly after she joined the WIL office, the Executive Committee decided that she, together with Mary Sheepshanks and Kathleen Courtney, should be asked to act as interpreters from French and German to English, during the Congress as she had excellent language skills from having studied both French and German. Therefore, it seems that she attended the Zurich Congress in the capacity of interpreter, though the Congress report does not provide any specific information regarding interpreters.

Kathleen was born in Reading, Berkshire, on 15th January 1883 to an affluent middle-class professional family, the fifth child of William Alexander Slater, a physician and Sarah Anne (née) Spicer. In addition to older sisters and brothers, Annie Maye Mary, Emily Margery, William Massy and George Freeman, Kathleen also had a younger sister Dorothy Gage, who died in 1905 at the age of 19 from an illness. In 1895 the family moved to the village of St. Mary Bourne, near Andover in Hampshire when William took over a local general practice. Kathleen was very fond of this village, and she went back to live there with her husband George Alexander Innes in 1938 and remained there until her death in 1967.

Kathleen, an avid reader, was well educated and studied History, Languages (French, German and Latin) and Logic and Psychology, passed the Cambridge Higher Local Examinations and received a Teacher’s Diploma in Theory and Practice from Cambridge University during the early 1900s. She also obtained a BA in Modern Languages (English and German) from the University of London in 1912. Before the First World War broke out, Kathleen had taught subjects including English, Literature and History at schools and to adults in evening classes in London.

It is not clear whether Kathleen was involved in any direct political action undertaken by the women’s suffrage movements, but she was still significantly influenced by suffragist ideas and was a strong believer in equal rights for women. Women’s rights as well as her views on democracy, internationalism and pacificism seem to have developed through her engagement with wide-ranging literature and the study of history, which were clearly reflected in her own teaching.  However, it was her experience at the start of the First World War that changed the course of her life, and she became more involved in politics and peace activism. At the time the war was declared, she was on holiday in Berlin and had to make  a stressful 10 day journey back to London via Hamburg then Denmark and Scotland.  Indeed, in her obituary which appeared in the Quaker newsletter, The Friend (May 12, 1967), it was revealed that in completing a biographic file sheet in 1933, she wrote ‘Hobby-Literature.  Driven by war into Politics!’, therefore, political activism was seen by her as more of a necessity and duty arising from the situation of the time than a positive choice.

Concerned with the patriotic institutional endorsement of the war, by the following summer of 1915, she had resigned her teaching position to join the Scottish Women’s Hospital (SWH) as a relief worker, initially as an orderly, though she ended up offering substantial clerical assistance to run the organisation and its service focused on helping refugees from Serbia, first in Salonika and then in Corsica.  It was in Salonika that Kathleen met her husband to be, George Alexander Innes, the administrator of the London-based Serbia Relief Fund (SRF) and a Quaker, who had originally trained as an engineer. In autumn 1916, she left the SWH and joined the SRF, but then went back to the SWH working part-time for both organisations until December 1917. Upon coming back to the UK, rather than resuming her teaching career, she continued her political work, first obtaining a job at the Union for Democratic Control in Birmingham, and then taking up an office secretary post with the WIL in 1919.

One of her greatest contributions to the WIL’s activities during her time as the office secretary was the organisation of the 1921 international summer school in Salzburg. Her experience during the First World War led her to believe in the importance of international educational exchanges with pacifist messages. After competent planning of the first national WIL summer school which took place in Buckinghamshire in 1920, the WILPF International Executive asked the British Section to organise an international summer school. Thanks to the excellent organisational skills of Kathleen, this two-week long summer school, themed ‘Education for Internationalism’, which became the first WILPF International Summer School, was a great success attended by 300 women and men representing 21 countries, including China, India, Japan and Mexico.

Kathleen’s more extensive involvement with WIL/WILPF started after she had resigned from her secretarial position, marrying George in September 1921 and becoming a WIL member. Already by February 1922, she had been elected as a member of the WIL Executive Committee, and subsequently became a Vice-Chairman with Dr Ethel Williams in 1926, the Chairman in 1933, and finally the Honorary Secretary in 1934, the position that she held until 1946. With the bomb scare at the WIL London office (which was indeed later bombed), the office was even temporarily relocated to Kathleen’s own house in Hampshire in 1940 until 1942.

While she came to be one of the central figures in the WIL of the time, she also started to play a key role in the international activities of the WILPF. Although her name does not appear in the British delegate lists of the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh WILPF Congresses in Dublin (1927), Prague (1929) and in Grenoble (1932), she was appointed as Co-Referent for League of Nations Affairs with Catherine Marshall (Dublin) and Referent for Progressive Education in Europe (Prague and Grenoble), and served as Chairman of the Constitution Committee at the Eighth Congress in Zurich (1934). Kathleen also acted as a WILPF Consultative Member of the British Section regularly during the 1920s and 30s. At the Ninth Congress in Luhacovice (1937), she was elected as a member of the International Executive Committee and was also appointed as Co-Chairman, together with Clara Ragaz from Switzerland and Gertrude Baer from Germany. She held the Co-Chairmanship until the next Congress in Luxemburg in 1946 – the first Congress after the Second World War.

In addition to the WIL/WILPF, Kathleen was affiliated with many other social and political organisations, often playing a central role such as that of the Secretary of the Society of Friends Peace Committee (SFPC). Like many other members of the WIL/WILPF, through her experience of relief work during the First World War in Salonika and Corsica with the Society of Friends and the influence of George, as well as her strong conviction of pacificism, it is assumed that she also became a Quaker around the mid-1920s. During her energetic years with the WIL/WILPF, her main activities included: promoting the League of Nations by organising group trips to Geneva to visit the League and its Assembly, and publishing books for children on the League  including The Story of Nansen and the League of Nations (1931);  leading disarmament campaigns nationally and internationally, and advocating (international) education for peace; raising the issues of women and their rights for discussion in various meetings; and actively lecturing and writing, like other contemporary feminist pacifists, on the relationship between patriarchy and militarism emphasising the role of women and women’s societies in addressing and tackling it.

However, these years did not always pass harmoniously or without any problems; Kathleen had to face recurring conflicts over how the WILPF should be organised and run internationally and its relation to national sections including the WIL. She also had to deal with internal divisions over various political affairs such as what the demand for disarmament should entail, the role and reform of the League of Nations, and how to deal with the rise of fascism. Particularly, after being appointed as Co-Chairman of the WILPF, together with Ragaz and Bear, she had to navigate the organisation through the most challenging  period of the 20th century. However, the outbreak of war made it almost impossible to communicate with each other and work collaboratively, which left Kathleen and many other members with feelings of confusion, distress and helplessness. As hardly any practical organised activities could be pursued through the WILPF/WIL, Kathleen and other WIL members turned to taking individual action such as helping refugees to find work and accommodation.

After the Second World War, she expressed her intention to step down from the Honorary Secretary position and her international commitments as she felt that she could not keep up with the hectic pace of WIL/WILPF life when she was living over 60 miles away from London. However, she remained in position long enough to serve as Honorary Secretary of the WIL and Co-Chairman of the International Executive until the Tenth Congress in Luxemburg (1946), which she was instrumental in organising. In the Congress, members discussed world cooperation and seriously considered whether the WILPF should be continued or be discontinued after the experience of so much hostility and suffering over the years.

In resigning as Honorary Secretary of the WIL and from the Co-Chairmanship of the WILPF in 1946, she was appointed as an Honorary Vice-President of the WIL as well as the Vice-President of the WILPF. She attended the WIL Executive Committee meetings fairly regularly until the end of 1948 and remained a Vice-President until 1966. However, her involvement with WIL/WILPF activities seems to have been extremely limited after the 1950s, apart from; her occasional contributions to the WIL Monthly News Sheet and the new Peace and Freedom News Sheet writing obituaries of WIL/WILPF members she had worked with, and the help she offered to Margaret Tims (and Gertrude Bussey) who produced Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom 1915-1965: A Record of Fifty Year’s Work (1965) to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of WILPF. Instead, she busied herself with various activities in the village of St. Mary Bourne; including serving as the President of Women’s Institute and a school governor, chairing the Parish Council, founding the Village Centre, as well as writing books on the history of the village. She died on 27th March 1967 from a colon cancer. The obituary published in Peace and Freedom (New Series No.48) describes how she was ‘outstanding and vigorous, with a shock of white hair with a commanding presence’.

Kathleen led a full and prominent life for a woman of her time, participating in a diverse range of activities ranging from literature, history, education and feminist pacifist activism to village living, but unfortunately her life has hardly been studied and she has largely been forgotten. The only exception has been Kathryn Harvey’s Ph.D. thesis “Driven by war into Politics!”: A Feminist Biography of Kathleen Innes (1995), an in depth and moving study of her life, particularly focused around her peace activism, which this piece is heavily indebted to. We should remember her great enthusiasm for, and sincere commitment to, feminist pacifism also acknowledging that she may have been more critical of colonialism and British imperialism than many of her contemporaries and saw rationality in non-white races/people – a view uncommon for her time. However, serious and continuous examination of her and her fellow WIL/WILPF members’ socio-political views, which could be problematic from our 21st century perspective, should not be abandoned either.